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Interview with Dave Fortin, blacksmith at Deva Knives

I met Dave Fortin, a blacksmith and the creator of Deva Knives, while he was presenting his products at the Folle Fourchette shop in Quebec. I’ll admit I was quite impressed. Chefs from around the globe use Dave’s quality knives because they are simply the best.

As a fan of his quality craftsmanship and an avid Deva knife user myself, I mustered up my courage and asked him the unthinkable...

"Dave, would you be open to crafting custom Rituels knives for our clients?"

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Boom! Lightning struck and it was a match made in heaven. A few meetings later, and two months down the line, our collaborative efforts came to light: the very first line of Deva kamisori razors hit our store shelves!

Since many of you are interested in learning about the craftsmen who design and create our products, we thought you’d appreciate it if we shared our conversation with Dave. Now let’s get to it...

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Q- Dave, you’ve been forging blades for over 20 years now. How many knives have you forged since 1983 when you first started?

It’s hard to say for sure, but I’ve forged at least 400 knives. I’ve also created about 200 more in stainless steel that were produced in Japan and the US.

Q - We often come across your knives in the hands of renowned chefs. Can you name a few? (Please…)

Over the years, many of my clients have become my close friends, so I hope that they’ll forgive me for name-dropping. Let’s just say that you twisted my arm, ok?
Amongst my clients there’s Stéphane Modat of the Château Frontenac. Together, we collaborated and created a line of knives, the Patrimoine Series, which are all available on my website. Unfortunately, you can’t buy them from anywhere else because they’ve all been sold out. (Sorry!)

Olivier Godbout of La Planque, David Forbes of the Ciel, and Sylvain Dervieux of the Les Labours restaurants in Baie-Saint-Paul are all on my client list. Oh, and there’s Émile Tremblay of the Renard et la Chouette. I’m forgetting many others, too…

(It’s true… every time I visit Dave’s workshop I come across different chefs from different restaurants who stop in for a visit or drop by to pick up or make orders… for, like, 2 hours! That’s just how things go in Dave’s workshop. You always know what time to stop in at, but you can never be really sure what time you’ll be out of there by.)

Q- When we last spoke, you brought up your passion for Japanese culture and metalwork. How has your love for Japan influenced your work and techniques?

Japan has really taught me a lot about simple aesthetics and the will to synthesize beauty traits with minimal work. The materials I use are magnificent in nature. I feel my main role is to reveal their natural beauty as opposed to masking it with flowery designs.

Q - Tell us about the technique used to forge our razors. (We’re curious…)

It took me a few years to develop and find that sweet spot that melds the Oriental and Occidental influences harmoniously. The Kamisori reflects this quite well!

The Japanese metalwork techniques that I use are ancient. In fact, these techniques were originally used to preserve the toughest and rarest of steels found in the archipelago back when the Samurai's were around.

All that, for a simple blade. Whereas, the reverse side of it was forged in softer steel and was easier to find.

This is what led to a new blade style which visibly portrayed the different steels coming together. Today, many appreciate this blade because of its aesthetic. The knives and Kamisori I create reflect this. However, in my case, the different metal tones aren’t simply an aesthetic. The different metals I’ve forged are actually sandwiched together using a very powerful hammer. Once that’s done, a thermal treatment hardens the steel before we remove any metal using an abrasive process that reveals the various layers of thinned metal.

The metallic layers have minimal thickness variations caused by the forging hammer percussions. This is what causes the curves and lines in the metal. Each line represents the zone where the metals meet, or as in the Kamisori, where the steel and nickel layers come together. It’s quite amazing when you think about it.

Q- Where are your blades forged?

Most of my blades are forged at the Forges de Montréal. I go there to work on specific fusion and elongation work, which is difficult to execute elsewhere.

For the Kamisori, the blades are forged at my workshop located in lower-town, Quebec, and at the one located in Lac-à-la-Tortue. The finishing touches on the other hand, are done in my Saint-Jean Baptiste workshop.

Q- What characterizes the razor blades you forge for Rituels?

I’d say that the fact that I’ve created a steel and nickel laminate is what distinguishes my work from others. Today, a few other blacksmiths use this technique, but I am the only craftsman to center my work around this artistic technique. It’s my signature laminate.

I also like to use recycled steel. Lately, I’ve been working with steel that was actually taken from the Quebec Bridge’s original anchors after they were replaced with new ones.

I also love using pre industrial steel. For example, steel taken from old farm buildings located in Quebec. That’s what I’ve been using for the Patrimoine knife series that I’ve been working on with Modat. Modern steel is much more uniform in texture and structure in comparison to ancient steel, which doesn’t have the same aesthetic qualities.

Q- Why buy a razor forged by a craftsman as opposed to the ones sold mass-market?

When it comes to hand forged work, keep in mind that each and every piece is produced one by one; even when we have to create multiple pieces for a series. In contrast, when it comes to razors produced in large factories, the work consists of manual chainwork. Although the workers are extremely competent and skilled, they aren’t involved in the overall vision and each worker must focus on a single portion of the task.
On the other hand, the craftsman ensures that each piece produced embodies his or her story and reputation.

Each decision is weighed with caution and a thorough thought process is involved. The craftsman may also react differently to the slightest metal differences observed in each piece, making each piece unique in look, feel, and personality. It’s no so much about adopting a uniformizing process as it is a creative process. Each serie is composed of unique pieces handcrafted to reflect their distinct uniqueness.

A craftsman can also take custom orders or create small series for specific clients, which would be impossible to execute in a large factory setting.

Q- Can we expect some unique pieces in the coming weeks?

Whoa! Did you see that Bald Eagle?! What were you saying? Boy, does time fly when you’re enjoying yourself. Looks like it’s time for me to head back to my workshop!

Bye!! ;)

The kamisori razor created by Dave Fortin was designed exclusively for Rituels and is available here!

Photo credits
Dave in his workshop: Sébastien Gros
‘Patrimoine’ knife: Caroline Filbotte.